Davidson Green: Building A Better Foundation

Title IX training unintentionally participates in inequalities it aims to redress.

by Samantha Davidson Green | 2/5/19 2:15am

Like all faculty, staff and postdocs, I received my email summons to complete mandatory Title IX training, as directed by College President Phil Hanlon and the College in response to the student lawsuit against faculty and the College stemming from alleged sexual misconduct of three male faculty in the psychological and brain sciences department. By a certain logic, this obligation makes me yet another link in the chain of the exploitative side of Dartmouth’s culture, in this case as it concerns labor practices. Exploring this link may point to deeper fixes for campus culture.

First, to be clear: I have no intrinsic objection to the Title IX training, nor to the College’s mandated participation; I understand their goal of increasing awareness and fostering a shared language for discussion, and I trust it will have value. However, as adjunct faculty contracted course-by-course, I am essentially an hourly employee without benefits or job security, barely earning a living wage when the hours are counted. By requiring the Title IX training without compensation, the College imposes a disproportionate impact on adjuncts, particularly those like me who are “off” this term. When I contacted the Title IX coordinator about this dilemma, she extended the deadline to spring when I’m back “on” — but compensation was not offered. To maintain employment, therefore, I must give my unpaid time in recompense for the sexual misbehavior of men of higher rank in the power structure than myself. Like others in this story, I will do what I have to do, but the irony is worth noting.

Left with the options of giving away time or short-changing my teaching to comply, I will give the time. Why? As faculty, we share the goal to serve our students. As the present lawsuit suggests, and I, too, believe, the misconduct of PBS faculty was representative of a campus culture that protected faculty at the expense of serving students — i.e. an institutional failure to prioritize this fundamental goal. How did this failure occur? And, as the Title IX training seeks to do, how can Dartmouth community members create meaningful change? I believe the systemic undervaluing of adjunct labor within the university offers both a partial explanation and a solution.

If Dartmouth wants to do deep work on its culture, it should start by valuing the faculty and staff who place teaching and serving students at least equal to, if not above, their own career advancement. Adjuncts are more likely to be more motivated by teaching and serving than career advancement, given that student evaluations are the only metric by which they may be renewed. But it also makes adjuncts vulnerable to exploitation by the institution, as they often put in more hours than is economical out of concern for good instruction, student support via letters of recommendation, academic counseling and so on.  

By contrast, the tenure ladder, when combined with Dartmouth’s ambition to position itself on the global stage, incentivizes faculty to value individual accomplishment and celebrity over relational ethics. This is our open secret, right? Colleagues have told me teaching performance is weighted significantly lower than research in evaluating tenure-track faculty. This engenders a hierarchy among employees of the College that devalues the faculty and staff, such as department administrators, who arguably give more to supporting student learning than their own advancement. Students lose again when these employees are excluded from hiring decisions and departmental governance where they might give voice to students’ needs. The PBS faculty’s conduct, therefore, while a grotesque extreme, fits into a cultural logic in which serving oneself is valued more highly than serving others. Sexual predation at any level of campus life is a further extension of this logic.

When faculty on the tenure ladder do choose to prioritize building strong relationships with students, they must buck the reward system and jeopardize their own advancement to do so. Nowhere is this conflict of values more clearly illustrated than for young faculty who invest in the most empathy-building work of all: parenthood. Title IX obligates “any education program receiving Federal financial assistance” not to exclude from participation or activity, deny benefits, or discriminate “on the basis of sex.” Given the disproportionate career penalty of parenthood for tenure-track women and the history of adjunct instructors as a feminized work force — arguably both lingering forms of gender-based discrimination in education — Dartmouth’s effort to meet Title IX goals would benefit from consideration of how the College values (or doesn’t) the work and learned skill of caring.

The tenure system offers the fulfillment of faculty members’ highest purpose: to reward excellence in scholarship with academic freedom for the advancement of human knowledge. Recent revelations have exposed the corruptibility of these noble goals, however, to a self-serving mindset and power protecting itself. This crisis begs three (at least) fundamental questions that no online training will sufficiently address: How has this hierarchical system created a culture of silencing dissent in order for participants to ascend to its protected upper echelons? Who are the humans whose knowledge faculty are trying to advance if not their students? And lastly, how might a revaluing in Dartmouth’s labor practices, rewarding excellence in teaching and commitment to students, help re-balance self-promotion with service to others, creating a more trusting, relational campus culture? 

A final irony worth noting: In their filmmaking, my students often grapple with complex identity and power issues they experience at Dartmouth — including sexual and racial violence. To handle production of such content, I must first foster trusting relationships among the students and with me. Students need a class culture of listening, taking an interest in each other and reciprocity to do their best work as filmmakers, as in life. In different words, these are the goals of the Title IX “Building Bridges to a Supportive Community” training, as I understand them. This community can build a more supportive environment by listening to voices from ranks lower in the campus hierarchy, foremost the students’. Their films offer an accessible place to start. They are guaranteed to open eyes, minds and hearts to students’ lives and entertain in the process. 

Davidson Green is a lecturer in the film and media studies department.

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